Against the backdrop of President Donald Trump’s assaults on the media, women, and people of color, two feminist dramas and America’s most powerful platform for political satire dominated at the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards.
HBO’s “Big Little Lies” took the award for best limited series and Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” won for best drama series, with both dominating most of the categories in their respective fields.
But NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” outperformed both, winning the most Emmys between Sunday night’s ceremony and the Creative Arts Emmys a week earlier. “SNL” took nine awards, one more than “Big Little Lies” and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which tied for second place with eight each.
With Trump the subject of near constant onstage talk — from gentle ribbing to pointed defiance — women and people of color stood out as they accepted their awards, including Nicole Kidman, Sterling K. Brown, Elisabeth Moss, Donald Glover, Riz Ahmed, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Aziz Ansari, and Lena Waithe.
“Veep,” another political satire, won for best comedy series, its third straight award in the category. Since 2007, only three shows have won best comedy series — “30 Rock,” “Modern Family,” and “Veep.”
Laura Dern won the first “Big Little Lies” award of the night, for best supporting limited series-movie actress. Director Jean-Marc Vallee also won, as did Alexander Skarsgård, who took a best supporting actor, miniseries or movie Emmy.
Later in the show, Dern and Skarsgård’s castmate, Kidman, won best movie or limited-series drama actress. Kidman began her acceptance speech by thanking her co-star Reese Witherspoon, who was also nominated in the category. “Reese, I share this with you,” she said. “Without you, I would not be standing up here.” Kidman, who plays a victim of domestic violence in the miniseries, thanked voters for shining a light on the issue with the award. The crowning moment came in the ceremony’s final 15 minutes, as Witherspoon and Kidman accepted the Emmy for best limited series on behalf of the show.
Moss, a TV mainstay through her years on “The West Wing” and “Mad Men,” won the best actress award for “The Handmaid’s Tale,” based on Margaret Atwood’s feminist dystopian sci-fi novel. Moss began her acceptance speech with a profanity, and kept delivering them before being played off abruptly by the orchestra. “Oh f—,” she said to kick things off. Moss dropped another f-bomb a minute later when she thanked her mother for teaching her that a woman can be kind and strong “and a f—ing badass.”
“The Handmaid’s Tale” then won the award for best drama series. The crowd at the Microsoft Theater cheered as Atwood joined executive producer Bruce Miller onstage. Miller, who earlier in the night won the award for writing in a limited series, closed out the show by imploring everyone in the audience, “Go home, get to work. We have a lot of things to fight for.”
The series became the first show on a streaming service to win the best-drama award — a feat that previous nominees from Netflix’s “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black” did not pull off.
Also from “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Ann Dowd won the award for best supporting actress. In her acceptance speech, Dowd said, “I’ve been acting for a long time. That this should happen now, I don’t have the words, so I thank you.” Dowd beat out a competitive field that included Millie Bobby Brown of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and Thandie Newton of HBO’s “Westworld.”
Brown of “This Is Us” won the award for best actor in a drama series one year after winning in the limited-series category for “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” In an emotional acceptance speech that referenced “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men,” “Webster,” “Martin,” and “Homicide: Life on the Street,” for which Andre Braugher won an Emmy 19 years ago, Brown paid tribute to his fellow actor. “I just wanted to say Mister Braugher whether it was at Stanford University or on this Emmy stage, it is a supreme honor to follow in your footsteps.”
Glover won the award for comedy directing for “Atlanta,” taking the first Emmy of his career. He later won again for best actor in a comedy series. “I want to thank Trump for making black people number one on the most oppressed list,” Glover said when accepting the actor trophy. “He’s the reason I’m probably up here.”
Louis-Dreyfus won for best comedy actress for “Veep,” her sixth Emmy for playing politico Selina Meyer — the most ever for one performer in a single role. “We did have a whole storyline about an impeachment, but we abandoned that because were worried that someone might get to that first,” Louis-Dreyfus joked of the show’s upcoming final season, another Trump jab.
But it was “Saturday Night Live” that set the tone early.
Kate McKinnon and Alec Baldwin took home best supporting comedy actress and actor awards for their work on the NBC comedy franchise, which also won for best variety sketch program. But the “SNL” influence was present even before awards began being handed out.
In the highlight of Stephen Colbert’s monologue, the night’s host introduced a surprise guest — former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. In a reference to Melissa McCarthy’s popular “SNL” parody of him, Spicer wheeled a podium onstage. Colbert then set Spicer up for a gag about the Emmy ratings. Calling back to his claims regarding Trump’s inauguration viewership, Spicer declared Sunday’s “the biggest audience to witness an Emmys period both in person and around the world!”
Accepting the variety-sketch award, series creator Lorne Michaels referenced the political climate that has powered the show recently. “I remember the first time we won this award, it was after our first season in 1975, and I remember thinking as I was standing there alone, that this was it, this was the high point,” he said. “There would never be another season as crazy, as unpredictable, as frightening, as exhausting, or as exhilarating. Turns out I was wrong.”
Baldwin, in a shoutout to Trump’s longstanding disappointment over never having won an Emmy for “The Apprentice,” said as he accepted his award, “I suppose I should say, at long last, Mister President, here is your Emmy.”
Colbert, in his monologue, got plenty of digs in at Trump. “Unlike the presidency, Emmys go to the winner of the popular vote,” he joked, adding as cheers filled the auditorium, “Where do I find the courage to tell that joke in this room?”
But Colbert also targeted his television peers, declaring, “Tonight we binge ourselves.” Adding Bill Maher’s name as he rattled off a list of black actors nominated Sunday night, Colbert said — in reference to the controversy that embroiled the HBO host this year — that Maher must be black “because he’s so comfortable using the N-word.”
Colbert also implored winners to thank everyone who helped them get to the stage, “Namely ‘Game of Thrones’ for not being eligible this year.”
John Lithgow was the first winner of the evening, taking the best supporting drama actor award for his role as Winston Churchill in Netflix’s “The Crown.” It was the sixth Emmy win for Lithgow in his career. Ahmed won the award for best actor in TV miniseries or movie for HBO’s “The Night Of,” making him the second performer of Asian descent ever to win an acting Emmy.
The staff of “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” won best writing for a variety-talk series. The show also won for variety-talk series — in a field of nominees dominated by late-night hosts such as Colbert, Seth Meyers, Jimmy Kimmel, and Samantha Bee, who have excelled at tweaking Trump — just one week after HBO renewed the series through 2020.
Waithe and show co-creator and star Ansari won for best comedy series writing for Netflix’s “Master of None,” making Waithe, who acknowledged the LGBTQ community from the stage, the first African-American woman to win an Emmy in the category.
“The Voice” won for reality-competition series. Charlie Brooker won for writing for a TV movie or miniseries for “Black Mirror: San Junipero.” Brooker accepted again later when “San Junipero” won for best TV movie, saying that if he had written the current cultural climate as an episode of the sci-fi horror anthology, it would be too “on the nose.”